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“I never let prison define me as an individual. I try to grow where I’m planted at.”

Provided by Carlos Wade.

Carlos Wade is an inmate at the Southeast Missouri Correctional Center in the Bootheel. He's been in prison for 28 years – since he was 17 years old, and he maintains his innocence.

Back in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional. Then in 2016, Missouri passed a requirement that allowed people sentenced to life without parole prior to August 2016 – for a crime they committed before they turned 18 – to apply for a parole hearing after serving 25 years.

Carlos spoke about the mental toll of being in prison for so long, and what he hopes to accomplish if he eventually gets released.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Carlos Wade: I was 17 years old when I got locked up. 1995. I’ve been incarcerated now, 28 years, I came as a child with a child – baby mother was three months pregnant with my only child, and I fathered him from prison.

I did the best I can. Unfortunately, he found himself in a penal institution, as well, because he didn't have the proper guidance.

I don’t fault myself for that because I'm actually in prison for something I didn't do, but at that time, it was extremely hard because nobody wants to fail their children.

This call is from a correctional facility and may be monitored and recorded.

Every month, I also send them [my grandkids] a book. I read them a book through a program called StoryLink, so they can hear my voice while I’m reading a book to them.

The reason that they saying it doesn't apply to me is because I have an egregious 120 years running consecutive [off] my life without parole.

"I live day to day in here as if I’m gonna go home."
Carlos Wade

The guys that have life without parole and concurrent time, they're given a meaningful opportunity back into society, but the parole board says I have to do 25 more years - telling me I have to get out or I'm going to be able to get out on my 75th birthday.

From a mental standpoint, it's been a lot of mixed emotions, ups and downs, because through the grandmother, and they were my primary supporters when I was a kid when I first came to prison.

I never let prison define me as an individual. I try to grow where I’m planted at. So, if I’m planted in this institution, I will be one of the best examples any individual in this institution can be.

Right now, I'm in a program called the THU. It's a transitional housing unit. It’s for guys that are getting ready to transition back out into society. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those guys because I have an egregious sentence of life without parole and 120 years running consecutive.

That's why I'm still locked in, and why a juvenile [when sentenced] like myself is not being given opportunities for release.

But to sum it all up, I live day to day in here as if I’m gonna go home. That's why I'm in a transitional housing unit because I want to learn how it's going to be to transition out into society with a strong support base, because I definitely have that and they’re waiting on me.

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.